Some of my sermon preparation doesn’t look like preparation. In all honesty it can look rather like walking.
I’m doing this more and more: going for a gander, Thursdays, in a verdant country park. Among the dog walkers and grounds maintainers, there I am wandering the paths of Pollok.
To the uninitiated, I look like a man on a morning stroll. I might be noticed to be glancing at my phone, or muttering under my breath, but the true purpose of my walk is probably obscure.
What I’m actually doing is biblical meditation. Having read myself full on my subject, I’m looking over my notes¹ and starting to wrestle. This is like the part in the baking process where the dough is being kneaded. The ingredients are all there, but before you can bake the finished product, you need to ‘work’ them.
This is where I’m especially praying for insight. “Lord, help me see what you’re saying to us through this text!” “Father help me apply this – to myself and to others.”
This is where I’m asking questions. What is the central truth I need to communicate? What will be the sermon’s structure? What will be the order, the flow of the message?
And after I’ve asked these questions, I ask even more questions. How might I introduce all this? What needs to be explained, and what doesn’t? What does it say to the young, the old, the sad, the joyful, the encouraged, the discouraged, the believer and the unbeliever?
- I churn. I ponder. I ruminate. And as I mull things over, a conflagration of things start to happen. They don’t come in a particular order. They just emerge, somewhat at random, from my mind.
- I see the point I really must start with.
- I glimpse a “connection to Christ” that makes my heart sing.
- Proportions start to emerge – I see what is significant, and what might be less so.
- Lines from hymns come to me.
- I’m reminded of an incident from my own life that illustrates a point in the passage.
- I remember a book that has a great section on this topic.
- I see a connection between something happening in this week’s news and the text.
- I think of a person in the congregation for whom a certain point may be close to the bone.
- I think of another for whom a certain verse will be a particular comfort.
- Then suddenly, a flash of creativity. A phrase comes – a powerful way to capture the whole sermon.
- A ‘way in’ to the talk comes to me, or a structure that seems to be simple and unforced. (This is the 1% of inspiration that accompanies the 99% perspiration!)
- I pause and praise God! The help of his Spirit!
As I return to my office an hour later, it may look like I’ve gone for a walk.² What has really transpired is an important stage in my sermon prep. I have thought the sermon over in my own mind. I have started to build a bridge between study and sermon. When I sink back into my chair, I’m ready to write a sermon plan. As I return to my blank screen I now have something to write. I have direction! The embryo of a sermon!
¹ The notes compiled from my exegesis and commentary reading on a Tuesday and Wednesday.
² As an alternative in colder months I either wander up and down the church aisles, or stand and write on the whiteboard as I meditate upon the passage.Tweet
Wow. I have done this exact same thing, even extending to location (a park) and day of the week (Thursday afternoon). It can often turn out to be a very profitable hour. As you pointed out, many things can begin to happen during this time. With that in mind, I have an additional prayer – “Help me, Lord, to recall ALL that I have just thought about once I get back to my office.”
Great article. You should be willing to share it though for those of us who like to file away these ideas and reference them down the road or when we are walking in the park.
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